Vacation means different things to different people. For some, just being home and working around the house without having to go to work is a vacation. For others, trips to exotic locales are favored. Still others like to revisit the same places every year. It is in the latter category that I find myself each September.

For 22 years, Faith and I have spent a week at Indian Rocks Beach (IRB) in Florida. Located on the Gulf of Mexico, just south of Clearwater, IRB is a nice relaxing place to stick your toes in the sand and relax. It isn’t that IRB is the best beach around, or that IRB offers something other beaches don’t have, but for us, it’s a sense of familiarity. Perhaps a little background would help explain it.

Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin are frequently visible off the beach

While my wife and I have visited IRB for 22 years, I have been visiting IRB nearly each summer for my entire life. When I was just a toddler, my folks would take my sister and I to this beach to visit my grandmother and grandfather during July. Each July, they would rent a cottage right on the water and spend the entire month there. The Sea Gem had 4 apartments and 2 cottages on the water as well as a third cottage in back. My grandmother would be there the entire month while my grandfather would commute back and forth to his job in Tampa. He would take a couple of weeks off, but for the time he couldn’t take off, he would simply commute to work and return each night.

This little cottage had 2 bedrooms and a bathroom, so it was the perfect size for our family to visit and spend a week. Mom and dad stayed in the spare bedroom and my sister and I would share the pullout bed on the couch or a sleeping bag on the floor. As a little kid, it was wonderful to wake up and be on the beach first thing in the morning. The day was spent swimming, building sand castles, collecting shells, fishing and just being a kid. You couldn’t get into any trouble there unless you went out too far in the water. As the family grew and we got older, there were years that we rented most of all 7 units at the Sea Gem. Back in the 60’s and 70’s, there were no high rise condos on the beach. There were mostly small cottages, or small two-story apartments/motels where you could stay and enjoy the beach. That’s all changed now as mostly every square foot of the beach has a big condo or an expensive home on it. However, there are still a few of the “old Florida” style cottages here and there.

Gulf Sunset

So the tradition of going to this beach goes back 50+ years. But it is more than the tradition of going to the beach. It is also what we did while we were at the beach. Many years ago, my folks were given a recipe for Bug Juice, a mixture of whiskey, beer, Fresca and lemon/lime frozen concentrate. It was their tradition to mix this concoction up and drink it during the course of the week, a tradition that continues today. I can’t think of anything more relaxing than enjoying the afternoon sun, a breeze off the Gulf and a cold glass of Bug Juice. Good stuff.

In the years past when the entire family would visit during the same week, we might have 12 or more family members staying in different apartments or cottages. After a big family dinner, we would all grab a lawn chair and line up on the seawall to watch the sunset. Gulf sunsets are beautiful, and while Faith and I are the only ones who continue to go each year, we still take our lawn chairs out for the evening show. After the sun set, we would all retire back to one of the units and play Tripoli until one-by-one each family member would retire for bed. As the years went on and the number of people able to go changed, the traditional card game changed to poker. I’ve never been very good at poker, but my dad does well with the game. However, no one was a match for my grandmother. She could hide a royal flush and make you think that she didn’t even have a pair in her hand.

Faith and I have added our own traditions over the last 22 years. We make sure that we go to PJ’s Seafood restaurant on our first night in town. We go back again when Faith’s dad spends an afternoon with us. He lives up in Clearwater, so we always enjoy sharing a little Bug Juice with him and getting caught up. I’ve also added the tradition of visiting Fort DeSoto and sometimes Honeymoon Island for photography during our week. I’ll usually get up well before sunrise and be at one of my favorite locations in time for the sunrise. What a special treat to see both a sunrise and sunset over water on the same day.

Faith and her dad

These are wonderful memories that I hold and I guess that’s why we keep coming back here. We don’t go in July any more as it is just too crowded and hot then. But we’ve found that late September really provides a nice comfortable experience. The crowds are gone and the temperatures are much more pleasant. The Sea Gem was sold many years ago and the cottages were torn down and replaced with a 4 story high rise. The apartments are still there, but instead of 4 one bedroom apartments, they were converted into 2 two bedroom units. After the Sea Gem was sold, the family made one or two more annual gatherings, but we haven’t all been together at the beach for many years now.
Gulf sunsets provide excellent photo opportunities

Faith and I have found a new place to call home during our vacation. The Shack on the Sand ( is a first-floor beach front condo owned by Ann Wilson. We’ve rented this unit from Ann for probably the last 8 years or so. It is always clean and welcoming and Faith and I look forward to our week there each September. It is so nice to sit on the patio and watch the activities on the beach, or to just simply walk out the back and be on the beach in 20 steps. No stairs to climb, no elevator to wait for, and everything you need is right at your fingertip.

While it is good to be home, it is so hard to leave our annual tradition at IRB. Each year it seems to draw us closer and the wait to go back each year seems longer. It truly is a wonderfully relaxing experience.


  • Dana

    October 3, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    Thanks Mike! You express yourself wonderfully and I could even hear the surf and smell the fresh salty air as I read your words. You took me right back to the first vacation I think I can remember, and you were right there with me chasing lizards and riding the waves…

    I love you,

    • Michael

      October 3, 2010 at 4:55 pm

      Thanks! There were even a couple of kids there this week chasing lizards…just like old times.

  • Dina J

    October 4, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    Your beautiful story reminded me of when I came down to Clearwater beach as a child with my family from Alabama to visit my grandparents. It’s weird now to think we live here. Hope you had a great vacation. The birding has been great here.